Eritrea Harnessing Power of Modern Technology to Detect and Control Desert Locust

eLocust3
Early detection and detection of Desert Locust beneficial to Horn of Africa. The eLocust3 gadgets allow data to be recorded and transmitted in real time. (Photo © FAO)

By FAO,

Desert Locust outbreaks cause extensive damage leaving communities vulnerable to food insecurity. In Eritrea, for example, Desert Locust are a perennial threat, with almost annual outbreaks thus there is a need for clear early warning mechanisms.

While controlling the movement of the pest may not be possible, the country is harnessing the power of advanced technologies in Desert Locust survey called eLocust3 to detect the movement of the locusts and thus trigger early action.

The eLocust3 is a handheld system connected to a vehicle antenna that transmits the field data (including locust situation, stage and behaviour, vegetation density and types, rainfall and soil humidity), via satellite instantly to the Desert Locust Unit in the headquarters of the Ministry of Agriculture in Asmara. 

Apart from facing the perennial outbreaks, Eritrea is strategically positioned as a gateway to the Horn of Africa, and since Desert Locust do not recognize borders, a shared commitment to a common cause has been reached with countries in the region. The crop and pasture loss caused by the pest is extremely devastating to food security and nutrition. The Government of the State of Eritrea has prioritised disease and pest outbreaks and moved to preventive rather than curative measures.

A recent field survey confirmed that the Desert Locust situation was calm along the 1200 km Red Sea coastline in Eritrea during January 2016. Tedros Sium, Head of the Desert Locust Unit in the Ministry of Agriculture, said the survey was conducted on the coastal plains between Karora in the north to the port city of Massawa.

“A total of 416 stops were made and based on the data collected by the survey teams and subsequent analysis the Desert Locust situation remained calm”. He added that only low-density solitary copulating adults and isolated solitary maturing adults were detected around the northern town of Mehimet. Only three devices were used to collect the large volume of data.

Sium further reiterated that the successful use of the eLocust3 devices for data collection using a cost effective manner had been the result of continuous training and technical support provided to the survey teams on the Red Sea coast between Karora and Tio. He added that on top of being cost effective, the devices allowed supervision from the Desert Locust Unit in the Ministry to guide and lead the survey teams in their data collection and surveillance methods.

Keith Cressman, Senior Locust Forecasting Officer in the Desert Locust Information Service at FAO Headquarters in Rome, said the effective management and use of the eLocust3 devices by the Desert Locust Unit of the Ministry of Agriculture in Eritrea was commendable and should be an example for other countries to follow. “Of the 416 data recorded on the devices, there was not a single error,” said Cressman.

FAO provided Eritrea with 14 eLocust3 devices in 2014 and initiated a comprehensive and sustainable training programme to create national master trainers. National field staff were also trained on various Desert Locust aspects to improve surveys, reporting and information exchange. Proper handling of pesticides, use of protective equipment for safe application of pesticides, and use of ground application equipment have been other essential components of the comprehensive capacity development. Cressman added that the level of competency and effectiveness was a tremendous achievement for Eritrea and leads to proper monitoring and early warning not only for the country but also for the region.

The Desert Locust breeding seasons in Eritrea are from June to September along the western border, while winter breeding seasons stretch from October to March on the Red Sea coastal plains in the east. Ecological conditions in the area are expected to remain favorable for locust breeding for the next few weeks, hence regular surveillance and monitoring is imperative.